Wednesday, August 12, 2020

The Troubles With HULU

 Ava: HULU has ticked off a number of subscribers.  We're going to discuss that, C.I. and myself, with Stan, Betty and Dallas.  C.I.?  Dallas and I are part of THE THIRD ESTATE SUNDAY REVIEW and C.I. is part of that as well as doing the site THE COMMON ILLS.  We'll be discussing the changes in HULU as well as trying to offer the history -- including changes -- of HULU.


C.I.: HULU is a streaming service that first became publicly available in 2008 -- we're ignoring the beta testing although Ava and I were a part of that.  HULU offered a limited number of films -- the two most streamed at this time were Doris Day's CAPRICE and Vincent Price's DR. GOLDFOOT AND THE BIKINI MACHINE. It offered episodes of TV shows -- programs that aired on ABC, CBS, NBC, FOX and THE CW.  The episodes would show up a day after they aired. You would see commercials whether you watched TV episodes or movies.   Stan, I know you probably want to add something.

Stan: Oh, about early?  Yeah, sometimes it wasn't the next day at five in the morning.  One time, for example, they had NBC's superhero show THE CAPE up an hour after the episode aired.  There was another show I loved that this happened with as well.  

C.I.: Fox was the first to get pissy.  They wanted their episodes on HULU a week after they aired.  The work-around for that was you could go HULU PLUS and not have to wait a week, with HULU PLUS, you could still watch the next day.  For Mike, he ended up grabbing HULU PLUS to be able to watch FOX's FRINGE the next day.  HULU PLUS required you to pay a fee.  You still had commercials, but you paid a fee or you stayed with free HULU which meant you had to wait a week after an episode aired to catch it.  Betty?


Betty: HULU PLUS was very popular.  Popular enough to become a joke on FAMILY GUY.  October 1, 2017, season sixteen, episode one, "Emmy-Winning Episode," they're doing a BREAKING BAD parody and Peter tells Lois they've got real problems.

Lois:  For five long years, orange was my new black. Peter, I don't care if it's drug money. I have grown accustomed to Hulu Plus. If you think I'm going back to regular Hulu, you're crazy! 

Peter: We don't even watch that much Hulu. 

Lois: I still want it just in case! 


C.I.: FAMILY GUY also did a commercial for HULU, by the way.  NBC was the next to get pissy.  Their ratings were in the toilet and instead of facing the fact that their sitcoms weren't popular -- single-camera sitcoms, at that -- they were convinced that people were not watching it on live TV because they had the choice to stream. Ava and I argued that point with various suits at NBC.  Ava?

Ava:  We told them, "This isn't people watching online who would watch on broadcast.  This is an audience that's only going to watch if they're able to watch when they want to watch.  Pulling the shows from streaming will not increase their network airing ratings.  People will just stop watching."  They didn't believe us.  They were convinced that HARRY'S LAW's rating would increase considerably if they pulled it from HULU.  They pulled it and . . . the ratings did not increase.  They pulled other programs and saw the same problem.  At which point, they told us that the decision had been made to do their own streaming service -- NBC-UNIVERSAL.  That's what it was going to be called.  In a piece, we noted PEACOCK's been planned since 2011 and we were basing that on our conversations with NBC -- mostly face to face or on the phone but we do have several e-mails and, I checked, it does go back, the e-mails to 2011.  

C.I.: HULU was never in competition with NETFLIX.  Unlike NETFLIX -- which bleeds money to this day -- HULU began turning a profit by 2010.  HULU's competition was TV that could be streamed online.  An early example would be AEREO which allowed you to stream and record broadcast TV but it faced court challenges and the court sided against AEREO.  SLING TV came along offering something similar.  You could watch a la carte -- on demand -- or you could watch live.  Channels included TCM, COMEDY CENTRAL, SUNDANCE and other channels.  SLING TV comes along in 2015.  Almost immediately, HULU is threatened and announces that they're going to roll out HULU+LIVE TV.  Stan?

Stan: I was a SLING subscriber.  The announcement came months before HULU offered the plan.  They sweetened the deal, improved on SLING, by offering live broadcast channels -- they sold it as local channels but it was a way to watch your favorite network shows live.  Now to get the channels I had on SLING -- no local channels -- I had to get their Blue and their Orange package.  Those channels, plus broadcast channels, were covered in the HULU+LIVE TV.  I was all for it but I had to wait months for it to be offered.  As soon as it was offered, I immediately dropped SLING.

Dallas: Same here.

Ava: We'll return to the history of HULU in a moment with some comments from me but, right now, I want to establish that you -- Betty, Dallas and Stan -- if asked in June, you would have said that you were pleased with HULU?

Dallas: Absolutely, I loved it.  I used it more than NETFLIX or DISNEY+ or anything.  I watched all my favorite shows.  It was easy to manage and there was so much I wanted to watch.  I streamed constantly.  

Betty: I would agree with that.  I used it.  My daughter used it.  We found so many programs we enjoyed.  I'd love to tell you that movies were things we watched but we really didn't.  We'd watch shows on FREEFORM, for example, that we'd never heard of.  It was so easy to use and to navigate.

Dallas: Because of the "My Channels" feature, right?

Betty: Exactly.  My Channels let you explore, first, what was on live right now starting with the channels you watched the most and then, when you clicked 'more channels,' all the channels.

Dallas: And you could move over and go through the networks, network by network.  You could look at CBS, for example, and go through it to see all the programs that would be airing during the next 18 or so hours.  You could do that with every network.  It was the chief navigation tool I used.  

Stan: Same here.  They have a feature called "Live TV."  It is not the same thing as My Channels and it does not offer the same features.  I don't care for it.  I never used Live TV because, when I tried it, it was useless.

Betty: I would agree with that.

C.I.:  At the end of last month, HULU rolled out a redesign.  It looks like AMAZON PRIME and it removed My Channels.

Stan: I was furious.  I was outraged.  I immediately called customer service.  I was lied to.  I was told, when I explained I was going to cancel my subscription over this, I was told to give them one more week, that there had been a lot of complaints.  I gave it a week and not only did they not return My Channels, I also saw Dallas' conversation with HULU customer service.

C.I.: That was published here last edition, "HULU has "no definite answer" -- or any real customer service."  Dallas, talk about that encounter.

Dallas: I'd read Stan's post about how HULU told him over the phone to give it another week.  Ava and C.I. had been told My Channels wasn't coming back and they shared that with me.  I went online and i.m.ed with HULU customer service.   I wanted an answer about My Channels.  What I got was someone who may not have been in the US -- did HULU outsource their customer service?  HULU's supposed to be an American company.  Read the transcript and see if the guy I'm talking to sounds like someone comfortable speaking English.  He didn't come across that way. He certainly didn't know a damn thing about HULU.

Betty: You explained My Channels to him over and over and he couldn't grasp what that was.  This is someone who works for HULU?

Stan: That really was something.  He kept telling Dallas things like uninstall the app and then reinstall it and that should help.  Should help him get the channels that are missing.

C.I.: It's frustrating to read that conversation.  What's more frustrating is how long that slow conversation took.  Talk about that.

Dallas: It took over 20 minutes to get a person.  And they told me it would be 20 minutes.  I went online and ordered two pizzas from Dominos.  I kept checking and and checking.  My pizza arrived and I got that and then started to get some plates for everybody but then I realized, 'Wait, customer service!' So I run over to the laptop and -- I'm still waiting.  It's been 35 minutes and no one.  Now once the guy finally shows up, there was the longest lag in ever reply.  It was like it was 2000 and we were communicating via AOL  or YAHOO messanger.  It was like dial up.  And if I had to explain to him or correct him, it would take forever before he would reply.

Betty: If that's HULU's idea of good customer service, they are in trouble.

Ava: And they are in trouble.  Right now, they are in trouble. Of their own making.  By refusing to address the customer's discomfort with the removal of My Channels, they've created their own problem.  All three of you are not using HULU currently.  You've either switched to YOUTUBE or are in the midst of a trial subscription with YOUTUBE.  How's that going?

Stan: I love it.  It's much more user friendly.  I love having PBS programs to watch.  There's so much more there.

Betty: I'd agree that it's better.  I will note that people may miss out on not having, for example, full season access to, say, AMERICAN DAD.  There's a work around --

Stan: The cloud.

Betty: Right, the cloud.  The cloud's unlimited.  So you can just record as it airs over the year.  

Dallas:  With HULU, I was constantly having to check my DVR because if I didn't and went over, the stuff in there was recorded over or kicked out.  That's not the case with YOUTUBE TV.

Stan: You don't get HULU's original TV shows but who really watches them?  Having PBS and TV LAND, my Cloud with YOUTUBE TV is always full.  Oh, and it's got ACORN too.

Ava: Can you pull up your recorded shows and give us some examples of what you're keeping currently?

Stan: Sure.  It's called "Library."  It divides it into "New in your library," "Most watched," "Scheduled," "Shows" and "Movies."  "New in your library" is whatever has been recorded most recently.  "Most watched" is whatever in your library you most often watch, "scheduled" lets you see which shows that will be airing soon are ones that you'll be recording.  "Movies" is movies you've decided to keep and the same with "Shows."  Okay, under shows, I have AMERICAN MASTERS, THE SIMPSONS, AMERICAN EXPERIENCE, AMERICAN DAD, RICK STEVE'S EUROPE, ROSEANNE, FATHER BROWN, KEEPING UP APPEARANCES, NOVA, JUDGE JUDY, THE NEW ADVENTURES OF OLD CHRISTINE, PERRY MASON the original and the HBO one, COLUMBO, THE NANNY, MARVEL'S AGENTS OF SHIELD, AMERICAN HOUSEWIFE, ALL RISE, THE NEIGHBORHOOD, BOB HEARTS ABISHOLA, THIS OLD HOUSE, WILL & GRACE, ENDEAVOUR ON MASTERPIECE, THE GOLDEN GIRLS, MARTIN, POP's ONE DAY AT A TIME -- the one with Rita Moreno, BOB'S BURGERS and THE GOLDBERGS.


Dallas: I watch THE NEWSHOUR on YOUTUBE TV, for example.  I have my local PBS station as an app on my ROKU TV but I usually didn't watch very often because it's opening another app.  So it's something I'd open on Saturday, for example, to try to catch up.  Now I watch THE NEWSHOUR live each night.  I don't trust CNN, MSNBC or FOX.  I know PBS has its own bias but THE NEWSHOUR is the only over the airwaves news broadcast I try to catch and feel I can depend upon.  With HULU, I had added on HBO and STARZ.  With YOUTUBE TV, I only have HBO as an add on.  There's more than enough to watch without needing STARZ.


Betty: One thing I really like is that I can see what's playing live and I can divide it up by show type if I want.  I love sitcoms, for example, so I can go to the live section and grab sitcoms as the show type and just go through the various sitcoms that are airing right then.  It's like My Channels but you can customize it.


C.I.: So it sounds like you are in agreement that leaving HULU was the right thing to do?

Betty: I don't see myself going back.

Dallas: Same here.

Stan: I put mine on pause -- my subscription.  If they restored My Channels this week, I'd think about going back.  If they restore a few months down the road it's too late.

C.I.: Stan, you feel like HULU really betrayed their customers?

Stan: I do.  I feel betrayed.  I paid for the service and I praised to my friends and I praised at my blog and then one day they make a change that's awful and hideous -- it was "New Coke" as you pointed out -- and they won't fix it.  People are complaining at their own website, people are complaining to their customer service and they don't care.  So, honestly, I don't care to continue subscribing.

Ava: And you have to be a paid subscriber now.  They no longer offer the free service.  I don't see, without that, how they're going to attract new customers because I don't see how the word -- or good word -- is going to get out.  The betrayal Stan's talking about is something reflected in the e-mails our last piece got.  This was a huge mistake on HULU's part -- dropping My Channels.  But the even bigger mistake was digging in and refusing to make their customers happy.  Returning My Channels is an easy fix.  That HULU refuses to address the problem does not reflect well upon the company.  And with that, we're going to wrap up.  This is a rush transcript.  Thank you to everyone for participating.

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